By SEAN POULTER
Last updated at 11:52 10 January 2008
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Experts fear computer consoles such as the Nintendo Wii harm child development
Children should be banned from playing computer games until the age of seven because the technology is "rewiring" their brains, it is claimed.
Bombardment of the senses with fast-pace action games is said to be causing a shortening of attention span, harming the ability to learn.
The concerns emerged as technology industry experts gathered at a special summit discussing the development of children, held yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Educational psychologist Jane Healy said research indicated that computer games fuelled the development of basic "flight or fight" instincts rather than considered reasoning.
"If you watch kids on a computer, most of them are just hitting keys or moving the mouse as fast as they can. It reminds me of rats running in a maze."
She believes parents would be wise to keep children away from computer games until at least the age of seven to allow their brains to develop normally.
Researchers from the Joan Ganz Cooney Centre, which investigates the relationship between children, the media and technology, said the average age that U.S. youngsters begin to use electronic gadgets has come down from just over eight to just over six and a half since 2005.
They looked at more than 300 products including computer games, toys, virtual worlds for children and supposedly educational software to be run on home computers.
Of these, only two educational video games employed proven learning techniques.
The researchers found that too many products involve children sitting isolated in front of a computer screen.
Others make unsubstantiated claims about their educational benefits.
There has been an explosion in the creation of virtual worlds for children in the past year.
Huge numbers of children in the U.S. and Britain are members of internet sites such as Club Penguin, Webkinz and others dedicated to Barbie or the Bratz dolls.
The summit heard calls for an industry code of ethics designed to do away with commercial exploitation of children who visit such sites.
By contrast, Alice Cahn, of the Cartoon Network, told the summit that technology was delivering huge benefits.
"We should not be worried about technology changing the face of play, but rather that all kids have access to the best kinds of technology."
Video game controversy
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